When it comes to Steam's Early Access program, your first thought is likely of the countless open-world survival games rotting there, doomed to never be completed. Every game tries to give the subgenre its own spin, but many just end up in the annals of mediocrity. Planet Explorers has lots going for it to make it stand out amongst the rest, but there are some critical flaws that make us worry it's doomed for the scrap-heap.
At its core, Planet Explorers is a third-person survival adventure game; it puts the player in the shoes of a colonist, crash landed on a mysterious planet full of threats and wonders. It was initially Kickstarted over three years ago, and was released through Steam Greenlight a year later, being updated regularly ever since. The developers were hoping to get the game out of Early Access by mid-2016, and they just missed this estimate, releasing in early November.
In our first impressions of the game, we acknowledged that if the game saw some polish then it could easily stand out as one of the better open-world survival games on Steam, alongside the likes of Rust or Ark: Survival Evolved. Now that the game has been released, we can't help but feel like it's missed this opportunity. Sure, some things were ironed out, but the game still feels clunky. You could feel the improvement to the game after every weekly patch, and although dozens of bugs have been fixed since we first played, not much of great note was added or improved.
There are three single-player modes for you to choose from; Story, Adventure, and Build. The bulk of this review will talk about the story mode, which is the bulk of the game, but we'll touch on Adventure and Build as well.
The defining point of Planet Explorers is its simple but effective setting; in the year 2287, a group of humans are met with disaster trying to colonise a planet, forcing them to set up shop on an unknown and hostile planet with limited technology. This setting means that players, from the very beginning, are working with wooden tools, before quickly moving up the tech tree and getting more advanced tools and machinery.
Many design choices do a good job of reminding you that the Earth-like planet you're exploring in the story mode is unwelcoming. The soundtrack, for a start, is extremely well done, and wouldn't be amiss in a big-budget title. It serves to add tremendously to the sense of wonder that the huge world can give you, and whilst some areas are just huge flat expanses, much of it has been created in such a way that you can explore for quite a while without getting bored.
The game itself has the look and feel of an MMO, despite being a mostly single-player experience. The UI, quests, NPC interactions, and even movement have been inspired by popular MMOs and, while it works, it sometimes feels like a waste of time. MMO quests have been designed so that many players can complete them at the same time, so you find yourself wondering why in a single-player game are you killing the same monsters over and over for a measly reward. It's a bonus that you can skip over all the side-quests completely in the story mode and still progress somewhat easily. According to the store page on Steam, you can even avoid questing entirely and still reach the ending, which is certainly interesting if true.